LONDON -- The question seemed not to be how well Venus Williams would play against Petra Kvitova in their third-round match Friday at Wimbledon, but how long Williams could possibly last.
As it turned out, Kvitova, who won the title here in 2011, ended up defeating the five-time Wimbledon champion 7-5, 6-7 (2), 7-5, but it was arguably the best Williams had played on the grass courts in three years, a high-level, two-and-a-half-hour match she was two points from winning in straight sets.
What's more, it follows a four-month span in which Williams has beaten one top-10 player (No. 8 Caroline Wozniacki), lost to three others in three-setters and won her first singles title (in Dubai) in two years.
But Williams, at 34 and three years after revealing a diagnosis of Sjögren's syndrome, a fatigue-inducing autoimmune disorder, truly can't seem to win for losing. And so the inevitable questions followed about whether this was her last match here, whether retirement wasn't far off, whether she was amused by the hurry to push her out.
"No, people have been trying to retire me since I was like 25," she said. "For some reason, in tennis, we always do that to our players. It's weird. We don't encourage them to stick around. It's like, 'Get out of here.'
"So I'm not getting out of here. I think this year has been a great year for me. I've had some tough losses, but I've learned a lot from them. I'm finding my way back on my feet.
"I'm proud of myself for what I'm achieving on the court."
Williams did not have to convince anyone who saw Friday's match. Grinding out their fifth three-set affair in their five-match series, any perceivable momentum was nonexistent with just two service breaks combined on three chances, the only one against Williams in the last game of the match.
Kvitova, going for broke on seemingly every shot, had 34 unforced errors but 48 winners to go along with 11 aces. Williams had six aces and 25 winners against 19 unforced errors.
"Yeah, it's a shame there had to be a loser in this match and more of a shame that it had to be me," Williams cracked. "But all I can say is that it's great to see women's tennis on such a high level. I always expect a great match when I play her. You look at our score lines and they're never easy. She manages to somehow bring her best tennis against me."
It's a toss-up whether Williams looked any more fatigued in the third set than any other tough match, or more than her 24-year-old sixth-seeded opponent, who called it her best match since the year she won the title.
"I knew she's going to play a great match on the grass," Kvitova said. "She definitely loves it, same as me. I think the match just showed how great [a] battle [it was] from both of us."
Williams has not progressed past the third round of a Grand Slam since she reached the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2011. For Kvitova, this was her 18th win here in her last 20 matches and the fifth straight Wimbledon in which she has advanced to the second week.
But do not count her among those planning Williams' retirement party.
"I think she's playing really, really well," Kvitova said. "She showed it as well today. I think that she can win some titles again. If she's going to be healthy and play some matches and everything like that, she can do it."
Williams isn't leaving the All England Club anytime soon; she is in the second round of doubles with sister Serena, going for their sixth Wimbledon title together.
"I'm so focused on the doubles right now," Williams said. "That's what I really have to focus on, is being a great team member, just unbelievable, keeping the level of my play up, then go from there."
If there are any backward glances, she made clear they will be borne only of what could have been in one grueling match Friday and not for some lasting reflection on a glorious career.
She is looking forward, she said, and not planning to go down easily.
"I want to win Grand Slams," she said. "Everybody does. You don't get 'em. Look at what happened today. No one gives it to you. They snatch it away and say, 'Mine.' That's what I'll have to do is snatch it, say, 'Mine, too,' growl if need be.
"That's what it takes."